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On the Brink | The New Face of Poverty: Meet Janice

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

In our new series On the Brink: The New Face of Poverty, meet Janice Hardy, an unemployed mother of two who is facing homelessness as she, like many Americans, grapples with supporting her family and tries to get back on her feet.

Janice Hardy, 51, rents a tidy two-bedroom apartment in a townhouse on a tree-lined street in suburban Somerset, N.J.

Stacked in the living room of the apartment she shares with her college-age son, the unemployed single mother of two has 50 cardboard boxes stuffed with her life’s possessions, waiting to move out at any moment.

“Any day now I’m going to get a knock on the door,” she said.

Hardy hasn’t made her $1,500 monthly rent since January. She has been unemployed since December 2009, joining the ranks of the state’s currently jobless 9 percent and a fraction of those who are slip sliding from the middle class onto the brink of poverty.

New Jersey is one of the states with a smaller number of residents living below the poverty line. But from 2009 to 2010 that number did increase from 9.3 to 10.7 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

The former mid-level AT&T manager never fathomed she’d be in this position: unemployed for more than two years, cobbling together food stamps and child support payments to make ends meet and facing eviction from an apartment she moved into after selling her beloved three-bedroom home.

“I did everything that everybody would call the American Dream,” Hardy said. “You buy your home. You buy a car. You raise your children, right. You do everything — and then everything’s gone and you have to start over again. It’s disheartening, but it’s reality."

A Life Changed

When Hardy discusses about how her family’s life has changed, she talks about moderately priced simple joys that are no longer affordable: vacation in Disney World, day trips to Washington, D.C. and New York City, concerts, Broadway shows.

But she said the hardest thing is that she fears she might renege on a promise she made.

“I promised both my sons that I would see them through college,” Hardy said, her voice cracking. “Ever since they were young, they were taught not to take college education for granted, that you had to get a college degree.”

Hardy is a petite woman with curly hair. Her 21-year-old son Jarell is a sophomore at Raritan Valley Community College in Central New Jersey, and her older son James, 25, is married and lives in New York City with his wife.

These days, Hardy receives $250 a month in food stamps and $400 in child support for Jarell. He works about 25 hours a week at Wendy’s — the same place he started when he was 16 — and helps with the bills.

The electric bill comes up to about $150 a month, and gas for Hardy’s red Honda Hyundai Tiburon, currently her only possession, comes to about $80 a week. She has no other source of income.  

“I’m just at a point in my life where I realize I have to start all over,” Hardy said. “And that’s just it. I have to start over.”

Jarell said he now naturally wants to help his mother with any expenses they have. But when he was a teenager he used to get frustrated.

“Working … would get tiring,” Jarell said. “Working and constantly putting money towards something I wish my mom would be able to but she can’t. That’s a huge burden on a child growing up.”

A Nearly Decade-Long Struggle

In 2003, Hardy was laid off from AT&T after working there for 19 years, part of a large downsizing of 3,500. It took her 15 years to work her way up the ranks for mailroom clerk to network engineer. She managed crews of technicians installing phone and data lines and earned around $50,000.

When she was laid off, Hardy believed she wouldn’t have trouble finding another job.

“I thought it would be a great time to start over,” she said.

During her first year of unemployment, Hardy took time to recover from a shoulder injury. Supplemental Security Income check due to the disability and severance package from AT&T, which amounted to around $80,000, helped sustain her.

But a year later, at 44, Hardy was once again at the bottom of the corporate ladder. She began searching for work and received offers only from temp agencies for administrative assistant positions.

“My phone rang off the hook,” Hardy said, recalling that period. “There were job hunters out there, but nothing permanent.”

Over the next four years, from 2005 to 2009, Hardy worked as an administrative and legal assistant.

In 2007, foreseeing changes in the housing market, Hardy decided to sell the three-bedroom condo in Franklin, N.J., she had bought 11 years earlier.

Home ownership, Hardy said, was “a major dream” she had managed to fulfill, but circumstances demanded giving it up.

She got $50,000 profit from the condo sale, which helped stave off some of the costs of college for her son James. But Hardy gradually had to tap into other resources too.

“I had a 401(k) plan with approximately $30,000 or more in it,” Hardy said. “In order to keep the household running … I would dip into it. Maybe $5,000 here, a few thousand there, whatever I needed to maintain the household.”

Eventually she depleted her 401(k). In December 2009, Hardy completed her part-time administrative assistant position at Johnson & Johnson. Since then she hasn’t been able to even find other temp jobs.

Jon Osborne, vice president for research at Staffing Industry Analysts, which follows temporary staffing agencies, said not getting a job, temporary or permanent, comes down to supply and demand.

“If you’ve been looking for a job for four years, or five years, or however long she was looking for a job, and you don’t find one … there’s a little bit of feedback there,” Osborne said. “That skill set is not in high demand.”

The telecommunications industry has gone through major changes. But Tarek Sadaawi, professor of telecommunications at City College, said the network engineer position Hardy held at AT&T is not obsolete, adding “the skills and the know-how is transferable” to other technology companies.

Hardy, however, has not been able to make that switch. Overall since losing her job at AT&T, Hardy has not held a full-time position.

“In my 30s, I thought life would be a lot more comfortable,” Hardy said. “[I] never thought that I wouldn’t have retirement.”

Job Search

Hardy spends hours applying for jobs online each day. Since phone and Internet were cut off in her home in January, she has been using computers in the Franklin Public Library.

Hardy said she sends applications for 10 to 20 jobs a week, ranging from positions in telecommunications and project management to jobs as an administrative assistant, flight attendant or supermarket grocery store employee.

“I know a lot of people say, ‘Well, why don’t you just get a job somewhere? Why don’t you work at the supermarket?’” Hardy said. “I have applied for those positions. Either you’re over-qualified or for whatever reason you don’t get a call. “

Despite her difficult situation, Hardy remains optimistic and said she believes she will be able find a job that will allow her to help Jarell go through college, buy a new home and re-start her retirement plan.

 “I don’t know how I’m going do it, but I just know I will. I have to start over,” she said.

Video and photos by Jennifer Hsu

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Comments [19]

Hopeless from GA.

Well this is me now, I have two weeks to find a job or be homeless. I have been looking for work, but no one will hire me. I don't know what else I can do. This is a horrible situation to be in and a strain on a person's self esteem.

Apr. 12 2012 12:03 PM
PeggyB from Brooklyn

I'm am so afraid this will be me in a year or less. As an employee of a telephone company who's product is no longer in demand (yellow pages) I feel the axe coming closer. Keeping my resume up to date and applying for jobs before that happens has become a nightly routine for me. We all know that finding and keeping a living wage job in NYC is a reach for the stars and sadly, there's never ever a guarantee you'll be secure. I hope that by telling her story here, her fortunes will change and she'll find something soon.

Apr. 10 2012 10:40 PM
stan chaz from NYC

The "new" poverty is called Capitalism. I almost wish that corporations WERE people. Maybe then they would show more compassion and concern for those in our midst, those that are part of our community, those that are still struggling to survive.... despite their best efforts. Like Romney says: I don't care about the poor -they have their safety net. Sure Mitt, sure......with you in charge we'll ALL go into bankruptcy!

Apr. 10 2012 07:26 PM
stan chaz from NYC

The "new" poverty is called Capitalism. I almost wish that corporations WERE people. Maybe then they would show more compassion and concern for those in our midst, those that are part of our community, those that are still struggling to survive.... despite their best efforts. Like Romney says: I don't care about the poor -they have their safety net. Sure Mitt, sure......with you in charge we'll ALL go into bankruptcy!

Apr. 10 2012 07:22 PM
J Hardy from NYC

Well Sparkja. I am the eldest son of Ms. Janice Hardy. If you are interested in helping you or anyone else who can can email me directly @ only1jbueno@gmail.com. This way you can ask her personally. Thank you for all of your comments, prayers and well wishes!

Apr. 06 2012 10:44 AM
Katrice from New York, NY

Janice story also my story however I have a part time job in new york city that isn't making ends meat I am a single mother of one on the brink of homeless anyday in new york city. Thanks to Bloomberg terminating the work advantage I hope and pray to god that I dont have to spend my daughter's third birthday in a homeless shelter. Being in the shelter is the worstest experience ever

Apr. 03 2012 09:16 PM

. . Should we blame the Bush/s ( both one and two ?? ) Should we blame the republicans in general ?? ( wanting to act as virgins while being whores ?? which has an offshore bank account ?? ) Not one ever addresses anything even close to a mistake - no talk of ENRON . . . Ronnie's changing accounting rules as governor of California . . no talk of the damage of de-regulation . . . . Structured investment vehicles, credit default swaps, futures exchanges, hedge funds, complex securitization and derivative pools, the tranching of mortgages—these were shown to have “little or no long-term value,” The purpose was to “merely shift money around” without designing, building, or selling “a single tangible thing.” ( compliments of UNTE reader )
BUT YOU BOUGHT INTO IT - THE OLD HOOK, LINE AND SINKER.....850 billion dollars for the WAR in IRAQ . . . . countless billions in AFGHANISTAN . . . the bailout of Wall Street and the banks ( remember diveratives ??)no accountibility - oh gee, golly miss molly where did the money go.......George Bush's Tre"SECRET"ary Henry Paulison said the people are too naive to understand the complexities of "banking" ( oh, you put the money in they steal it ).....
oh, how you follow blindly - until it is your turn in the bareel........THINK BEFORE YOU VOTE - WHOSE GETTING RICH AT YOUR EXPENSE ????

Apr. 03 2012 06:39 PM
TheGardenMaster from Arizona

Remember the industry that caused this economic meltdown. They continue to thrive after they sucked the equity of our investments in time and money from our assets. The federal and state governments helped them do it and then stand by, while they continue down the same path. The financial industry is a parasite on the community politic. We can conquer this challenge by working together utilizing the assets around us. Remember no matter what happens in peoples lives they still need to eat, and therein lay the solution. Agriculture is the foundation of all civilization so is required for the same to thrive.

Why is the most important stone to a foundation for a thriving civilization and economy is the last stone to be given attention? The research, structure and experience are already available for success, yet governments look around as if they need to start from scratch at reinventing the wheel. Quality and consistent food production are critical to a thriving society not oil. It cost me 600k to setup every acre on this system and I have my cost back plus a healthy premium at the end of the first year. We produce over 260 tons per acre with our system. It employs people, it feeds people and it eliminates the need for high long term capital investment. Google the poster. The need and the demand are there and can be fulfilled with the redirection of focus. The focus must be on a grass root agricultural base first and build from there. You leave out the grass root base and you malnourish and starve the people. Thegardenmasterqc@gmail.com

Apr. 03 2012 04:05 PM
jmurphy from Long Island

The problem is Janice, me, and people in our age group (50s and 40s) were raised in households where you got a job in a large company, stuck with it, and retired.

So it is a shock to have to start over, and we would be willing to do just that if employers would be willing to look at age and experience as an asset in women of our age:

-we have already had our kids, so they don't have to worry about maternity leave or calls from the school nurse

-older women have a knack for cutting through the "bs" of things and getting to the point.

-we are loyal. we are not looking to jump from place to place.

-we are dedicated. we want to do things to the best of our ability.

-we've made our mistakes, learned from them, and are willing to bring that experience to our jobs.

Apr. 03 2012 02:46 PM
A. J. Carr from queens

BTW- no one brought up the race card.
"Black and Latina women face particularly high rates of poverty. Over a quarter of black women and nearly a quarter of Latina women are poor. Black and Latina women are at least twice as likely as white women to be living in poverty."

Apr. 03 2012 01:56 PM
Lois from NJ

and.............shame on AT&T, for not pitching in to do it's fair share. How can the company let down it's loyal employees?

Apr. 03 2012 11:57 AM
Lois from New Jersey

Wow. The comment from David,from New Jersey, really says it all.
Blame has to be put where it is due. Ok, the deficit may have started with Reagan's presidency, but, after the Clinton administration, we had a surplus.....and,
what does George W do, put us in a war with Iraq, and drain our $. He is the one who approved the bailing out of banks, and GM. This may have been necessary, but Obama certainly didn't start this. Every politician seems so political, lately, but I think Obama is doing the best he could, under these dire circumstances. So much time on the health care bill was probably his downfall, with the state of the economy warranting more emphasis.

Apr. 03 2012 11:54 AM
David from New Jersey

After listening to this story, I immediately stopped work and went to Google to research AT&T layoffs. I wanted to see it in print, what I already knew about AT&T and what happen to this wonderful woman and her children. What I found was other AT&T employees, who had put in many years at the company only to be rewarded by having their jobs not eliminated, but instead shipped to the sub-Asian continent.

Every comment I had read from these ex-AT&T employees clearly expressed that they knew why their jobs were eliminated. The common thread was that they were very aware of management greed and that they had to make the stock look good and also the expressed desire of management is to kill the unions that were established over the years there. Why unions? Because many of these employees were very clear that working at AT&T was very much like slave labor.

Some of these ex-employees blame the Obama administration, misdirected rage in my opinion, as to the state of AT&T. This attitude definitely shows a lack of research on those employees part as to what happened at AT&T.

AT&T was born out of the old Bell Company. This took place around the late 1800s. From there AT&T grew to be one of the biggest companies in the world until it was forced to break up starting in 1974 initiated by the Justice Department through an antitrust law suit. The big breakup did not start to occur until 1982. From there it was downhill and it was every company for itself. To show a greater profit for shareholders, the first thing a company will do is to attack the workers in any way they can, even if they can get them to work for nothing. Thus India.

This all occurred way before Obama and to be specific it all started around Ronald Reagan's presidency.

People, you need to study history and get your facts straight so that you can think who you really should attack.

My family was once Republican until we realized that the party of Lincoln was no longer the party of the people. It is the party of the selfish and you just have to look around at the past 8 to 10 years before Obama's term and you will understand why the economy is in the state it is in.

Read history and learn something. This is why Rick INSANATORUM and other Republicans want to keep you stupid. It is easy to misdirect you and get you to believe anything.

Apr. 03 2012 11:01 AM
L.Logan from NYC

U.S. News, The Daily Beast artisle by Leslie Bennetts, 2011.

"As usual, single mothers are having the hardest time of all. More than 40 percent of women who head families are now living in poverty. With more than half of poor children living in female-headed families in 2010, the child poverty rate jumped to 22 percent.

When the NWLC crunched the latest numbers from the Census Bureau, the results showed that record numbers of women are living in poverty. And in news that should surprise no one, the findings reveal that millions of those women do not have health insurance.

As usual, they’re suffering more than anyone else.
And as usual, most of the powers that be aren’t paying attention."

This economic situation is not an act of God but policies made by our government, politicians, lawmakers etc. If only the "powers that be" would pass laws that are fair, equal and benefit this half of our population that is suffering so egregiously.

Apr. 03 2012 10:53 AM
Nicole from New Brunswick, NJ

I am a member of a local activist group in the Somerset area that is advocating for people just like Janice. We have a talented group of activists with professional experience in the social services and workforce development systems, and we also have people with extensive knowledge of state laws and assistance programs. Janice and any other people in similar situations in the New Brunswick, NJ area can contact me at nicole.e.corre@gmail.com for information about our group and ways we can help. We are currently focused on people trying to avoid foreclosure or eviction, as well as people trying to navigate the social services and workforce development systems.

Apr. 03 2012 10:31 AM
Kikakiki from New York City

And I bet she now has no health benefit. This series needs to be on the front page of a major newspaper. The politicians talk in lofty terms but we need to see the real faces put the flesh and blood out there. Her age, her long-term unemployment, and her skill set all work against her, and she IS the middle-class. The sad truth - Her situation is that of thousands. Keep your chin up, because I've been there I can say it can get better.

Apr. 03 2012 10:14 AM
A.J. Carr from Queens

Where the heck is the father of these boys? $400.00 a month in child support? Are you kidding me? Again, the economic abuse of women and children goes on.

Here are the statistics: 66% of the world's work is done by Women, 50% of the world food is produced by Women, only 10% of the world's income is earned by Women, and Women own 1% of the world's real estate.

The majority of poverty in America is WOMEN over the age of 18. Only 40% of child support gets to the women and children who were awarded it.

So think again when you big successful men driving around in 60k dollar cars and 400 dollar shoes, you are not men. To let your women and children suffer like this is unacceptable!

Apr. 03 2012 09:55 AM
Steven from queens NY

I feel for the many Janice in America. You can see this woman worked her way up in one of the biggest company in America and tried to achieve the American dream. She said something that hit home with my situation of being unemployed for over a year. I am at that difficult age (58) for being unemployed. They are not talking about the so-call unemployed “white collar” workers. We know that “blue collar” jobs left this country when big companies sent manufacturing overseas; now the service sector, computer management & development workers jobs are following the same path. I got a post graduate degree with over 25 years of experience and as Janice stated you try every day send out resumes, attend job fairs, even try at local big box stores; but either you are over qualified or look too old for entry level positions. I have stated to water down my resume, yes lowering my achievements and standers in order not to look like an over qualified applicant. Welcome to the ne America.

Apr. 03 2012 09:03 AM
Sparkja from NYC

I was very moved by the bravery this woman shows in the face of so many challenges. She will be an inspiration today. Whenever I hear a story like this, a story of someone with overwhelming odds against them and who still accepts responsibility for finding a solution, I imagine some, or many generous angels coming to her rescue, just to cut her some slack. It's my turn today. How can I help?

Apr. 03 2012 08:02 AM

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